Mat Sabu’s Allah-for-non-Muslims-too remark a relief, says Catholic bishop

January 05, 2013

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 5 — PAS deputy president Mohamad Sabu’s reminder that non-Muslims are free to describe their gods as “Allah” is reassuring, a Catholic bishop said today, after the recent cross-signals sent out by the Islamist party’s information chief.

“The PAS deputy president’s reassurance that the stance of three years ago still holds comes as a relief. We salute his consistency, admire his courage and welcome him as a friend of truth and goodwill,” Bishop Paul Tan told news portal Malaysiakini, a day after Mohamad clarified the party’s stand.

The Malaysian Insider had yesterday reported the PAS leader, popularly called Mat Sabu, as saying: “The PAS’ president had issued the statement in 2010 to not forbid any religious adherent apart from Muslims to use the word ‘Allah’. PAS maintains that stand.”

Many Muslim Malaysians, who form 60 per cent of the 28 million population, argue that the Arabic word is a proper noun that refers exclusively to their god, contrary to a 2009 High Court ruling that allowed the Catholic Church to publish the word to describe the Christian god in the Malay section of its weekly newspaper, Herald, which caters to its Bahasa Malaysia-literate congregation who mostly hail from Borneo.

Tan, who heads the Catholic Church in the Malacca-Johor area, was reported as saying Christians in the peninsula felt a significant step forward had been made towards resolving the protracted tug-of-war over the “Allah” word.

“My hunch is that the lines of intra-party communication must have been crossed and the information chief got things mixed up,” he was reported as saying.

Mohamad added that his party president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang had already spoken out on the matter three years ago, when the debate first raged.

Abdul Hadi, a respected Islamic scholar, had in a statement dated January 7, 2010 said: “In conclusion, we cannot forbid them from using the word ‘Allah’ among themselves, in their worship and practice, even though the meaning deviates from the original according to our language.”

The debate over non-Muslim use of the word was again sparked last month when Tuan Ibrahim publicly remarked that the use of the word “Allah” in the Alkitab, the Malay-language translation of the Bible, would not reflect the original text’s meaning.

“PAS’ stand is that the Bahasa Melayu Bible should replace the ‘God’ term with ‘Tuhan’ and not ‘Allah’ to mirror the actual meaning of the original text,” he said in a statement issued just a day after Christmas.

Tuan Ibrahim said both Christians and Muslims could be confused when the word “Allah” is used in the Alkitab.

He was responding to an earlier statement issued by Pakatan Rakyat (PR) ally, Lim Guan Eng, who had raised the controversial “Allah” issue in his Christmas message urging the federal government to lift its ban on the word published in the Malay bibles shipped in to Sabah and Sarawak, who form the bulk of Malaysia’s 9.2 per cent Christian population.

In recent years, the Christian and Muslim religious communities have been engaged in a tug-of-war over the word “Allah”, with the latter group arguing that its use should be exclusive to them on the grounds that Islam is monotheistic and the word “Allah” denotes the Muslim god.

Shipments of the Alkitab, the Malay-language Bible catering to the Bahasa Malaysia-speaking Bumiputera Christians, were blocked or confiscated at ports, before the government finally bowed to pressure and released them in 2011.

A legal tussle over the use of the word “Allah” remains unresolved, with the Catholic Church still barred from publishing the word in its weekly newspaper, despite winning a High Court decision on December 31, 2009.

This is due to the Home Ministry filing an appeal in 2010 against the High Court’s decision, which has since stagnated in the courts as no date has been set for its hearing.

Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has also said the PR pact will meet on January 8 to discuss the issue further.